So wrote Robert Browning, on the 10th of January 1845, to Elizabeth Barrett, a famed poet who was also an invalid and a recluse. She wrote back.
Their story is one of the most romantic to be found in literary history, but it's not the romance of tragic infidelities, wrenching separations, narcosis, tuberculosis, and early death that attend so many other literary heroes. It's the truer romance of genuine kinship, kindling intellects, a full and free exchange of idea and emotion, and a flight to Italy where health, happiness and fertility crowned their marriage. And it all started with this letter.
...since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning and turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me - for in the first flush of delight I thought I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration - perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of hereafter! - but nothing comes of it all - so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew [...] the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought - but in this addressing myself to you, your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogether. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart - and I love you too: do you know I was once not very far from seeing .. really seeing you? Mr Kenyon said to me one morning “would you like to see Miss Barrett?” - then he went to announce me, - then he returned .. you were too unwell - and now it is years ago - and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels - as if I had been close, so close, to some world’s-wonder in chapel or crypt, .. only a screen to push and I might have entered - but there was some slight .. so it now seems .. slight and just-sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be!
Well, these Poems were to be - and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself
Yours ever faithfully,